The Nikon Z 8 is a new high-resolution mirrorless camera. You can think of it as the counterpart to the Nikon D850 in Nikon’s Z system, or as a smaller and cheaper version of the Nikon Z 9, which has the same sensor and processor.
TESTRESULTS Nikon Z 8:
The Nikon Z 8 offers the same performance as the Nikon Z 9, in a lighter and more compact body. This makes it a better choice for those who also want to shoot video.
Introduction Nikon Z 8
The Nikon Z 8 is Nikon’s latest system camera, announced in May 2023. It is a mid-size camera based on the same sensor and processor as the top-of-the-range Z 9 sports camera. The Z 8 offers most of the features of the Z9, but in a smaller body. In Nikon’s range, it sits between the Z 7 II and the Z 9 in terms of features and price. You could call it the Z counterpart of the Nikon D850. The 8 in the name clearly refers to Nikon’s 8xx series. But the Z 8 is much more photo and video focused than the D850. It is a true hybrid camera for creative image-makers.
Sensor and processor
Like the Z 9, the Nikon Z 8 has a stabilised 45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor developed by Nikon. This CMOS sensor has a so-called stacked design. This allows the sensor to be read out quickly. This enables a high batch rate: up to 20 shots per second in raw format, or 30 shots per second in full-resolution jpeg. With a lower resolution of 11 megapixels, that even becomes 120 shots per second in jpeg format. The Z8 also offers the pre-burst option that allows it to take pictures when the shutter button is pressed halfway and then record up to a second of pictures when you press the shutter button fully. This is available in jpeg at 30, 60 and 120 fps.
The information captured by the sensor is processed by Nikon’s Expeed 7 image processor. This processes two image streams in parallel: one for the live view image you see in the electronic viewfinder or on the screen, and one for the image file (photo or video) stored on the memory card. The advantage of these parallel image streams is that the image in the viewfinder never blacks out or slows down. As a result, you always see in the viewfinder what you can see through the lens, just like the optical viewfinder of an SLR.
Like the Z 9, the Z 8 uses only an electronic shutter; in fact, there is no mechanical shutter at all. Because it reads the sensor so quickly, the Z 8 will suffer virtually no slit-shutter distortion (rolling shutter), where moving objects in a photo or video are distorted. The electronic shutter in the Z 9 has a flash sync time of 1/200s, so you can also use studio flashes. It also has the same sensor protection as the Z 8. This looks a bit like a curtain shutter with slats, but is much sturdier.
Construction and control
Externally, the differences between the Z 8 and Z 9 are greater. The Z 8 has no built-in battery grip and is therefore more compact than the Z 9: it is 119 mm high, while the Z 9 is 150 mm high. As a result, the Z 8 fits in a standard photo backpack, while you need a larger backpack for the Z 9. The difference in weight is even more striking: the Z 8 brings 910 grams to the scales, compared to 1340 grams for the Z 9. This also makes the Z 8 easier to use in video rigs and on gimbals than the more cumbersome Z 9, making the Z 8 a better choice for videographers.
Incidentally, the difference in weight is not only due to the absence of the battery grip. The body of the Z 9 is made entirely of a sturdy magnesium alloy; more carbon fibre, a lighter material, was used for the Z 8. The Z 8 does have a weatherproof seal that keeps out dust, dirt and moisture, and is just as resistant to cold as the D6 and Z 9, according to Nikon: you can work with it in temperatures down to -10°C.
The Z 8 uses the same EN-EL15c battery as the Z 6 (II) and Z 7 (II). According to the CIPA measurement method, this battery is good for 340 shots. In practice, it will be much more, as this outdated standard underestimates the real performance; the CIPA standard assumes that the camera screen remains on for 30 seconds after each shot. The battery can be charged in the supplied battery charger, or via usb.
For that matter, the Z 8 has not one but two USB ports. One serves to charge the battery, the second for data transfer. You can also connect an adapter to this second one to connect the Z 8 to an Ethernet network. In fact, unlike the Z 9, the Z 8 does not have a built-in Ethernet port. There is also no GPS receiver, so your photos cannot be geotagged.
Another difference from the Z 9 are the memory card slots. The Z 9 has two slots for the fast CFExpress memory cards, while the Z 8 has one CFexpress Type B slot and one UHS II SD slot. The advantage of UHS II SD cards is that they are cheaper than CFexpress with the same capacity; but they are slower and not suitable for filming in 8K resolution, for example. You should also have a card reader that accepts both card types.
The viewfinder and screen are again the same as those of the Z 9. The electronic viewfinder has a resolution of 3.69 pixels, which seems little compared to top Canon and Sony models. But the big advantage of the viewfinder is the total absence of delay: you really see what is happening and don’t miss a moment. That is more important for action than high resolution. The screen can be flipped horizontally as well as vertically, but it is not rotatable. For a camera that targets videographers so strongly, that’s a drawback anyway.
The position of the controls is similar to that of other Nikon Z cameras, so Nikon users will quickly become familiar with the Z 8. The camera has a large number of buttons and dials for direct access to key settings, including three programmable function buttons. The camera also has a joystick for selecting the focus point.
The main differences from the Z 9 are the absence of the transport mode dial on the top left, and – due to the absence of the battery grip – of the extra shutter button, second joystick and AF-ON button to control the camera in portrait mode. If you would like to have those controls for vertical orientation, there is the separately purchased battery grip MB-N12 (€399) that also fits a second EN-EL15c battery. Mate with that battery grip, the Z 8 again comes close to the Z 9 in weight and size.
Like the Z 9, the Z 8 has an AF mode dial at the bottom left of the front, exactly where the traditional MF/AF-S/AF-C switch on Nikon’s SLRs sits. Holding the button down and turning the front dial changes the AF mode, while turning the rear dial changes the AF area.
Since the Z 8 contains the same sensor and image processor as the Z 9, we expect both cameras to deliver the same image quality. This is good news, as the Z 9 delivers photos with great detail and natural colours. The Z 8 also has the same new portrait features as the Z 7 II that allow photographers to improve hue and brightness, and a function to soften skin. The Z 8 can also take 10-bit HEIF photos; this file type captures a wider dynamic range. As soon as we can test a Z 8, we will post about it.
The Z 8 has impressive video capabilities. It can shoot 12-bit RAW video in-camera, so without having to use an external recorder. The Z8 films 8K/60p video in Nikon’s 12-bit N-Raw format. In ProRes RAW HQ it can capture 12-bit 4K/60p, in ProRes 422 HQ 10-bit 4K/60p. In H.265 format, 8K/30p or 4K/60p (downsampled from 8K) are available.
The main difference on the video front with the Z 9 is that the Z 8 can record a maximum of 90 minutes, instead of the 125 minutes offered by the Z 9. Presumably, this is because the Z 9’s metal body dissipates heat better.
The Z 8 has the same autofocus system as the Z 9, with phase detection pixels on the sensor. This is good news because the Z 9’s autofocus system is one of the best on the market. Thanks to deep learning-trained algorithms, it recognises people, dogs, cats, birds, cars ́s, motorbikes, bicycles, trains and planes. The Z 9 could already detect aircraft as part of its vehicle detection mode, but on the Z 8, this subject was given a separate setting – plane spotters will be pleased.
According to Nikon, subject recognition for people was also improved: faces are recognised faster when they are only small in focus, and face recognition is said to work better in backlight too. Perhaps the Z 9 will soon also get these improvements via a firmware update.
Relative to its competitors
In almost every respect, the Z 8 can be considered a slimmed-down Z 9, with all the features and capabilities of that larger camera in a smaller and lighter body, with some newer features such as HEIF, a more refined autofocus and skin enhancement.
The €4,599 price tag puts the Z8 in direct competition with the Canon EOS R5, the Sony A7R V and the Sony A9 II, and by comparison it doesn’t look bad at all.
|Nikon Z 8|
|ISO||64-25600 (32 – 102.400 extensive)|
|max. series rate||20 (RAW), 30-120 (jpeg)|
|storage media||1 x CFexpress, 1x UHS II SD|
|battery capacity||340 shots|
|dimensions||144 x 119 x 83 mm|
|weight (incl battery)||910 g|
|retail price||€ 4.599,- (body)|
Conclusion test Nikon Z 8
In almost every respect, the Z 8 can be considered a slimmed-down Z 9, with all the features and capabilities of that larger camera in a smaller and lighter body.
For a final rating, we will have to wait until we can test the Z 8. But based on the specifications, and the experience we have with the Nikon Z 9, this looks set to be a great device for image-makers combining photo and video.